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Pocrass: When Does a Government Entity Become Liable for a Dangerous Street?

Jim Pocrass is a leading bike attorney representing people from throughout Southern California who suffer serious personal injuries – or the families who lost a loved one to a wrongful death – because of the carelessness or negligence of another. Jim is a cyclist and active in the bicycle community, supporting numerous bike-related causes. He also is on the board of directors of the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition. For a free consultation, or to contact Jim, visit www.pocrass.com or call 310.550.9050. 

James Pocrass. Photography by Dennis Trantham

James Pocrass. Photography by Dennis Trantham

A couple of weeks ago, Jim volunteered to answer Streetsblog reader questions about legal matters. His answers proved so detailed that we decided to break them up into a five part series (one per question) rather than one giant story. Part 1 is available here.

Q:  Council members have recently been shutting down proposed road diets that would make well-known dangerous streets safer (sometimes they do so under the guise of “safety”). Would an individual hit or injured while biking (or walking) on one of these notorious streets – after a council member vetoes a proposed bike/pedestrian safety enhancement – have any legal standing to take (successfully) the city or council office to court?

A: For those who come upon this post and who may not know what a road diet is, let me define it before I answer the question.

Simply put, a road diet is the popular term for when a road is reconfigured to add a bike lane, a pedestrian crossing island, and/or parking. Research has shown that a road diet increases safety by reducing collisions for bicyclists, pedestrians, and motorists.

Benefits of a road diet include reduced vehicle speeds, improved mobility and access, reduced collisions and injuries, and improved livability and quality of life (U.S. Department of Transportation, Federal Highway Administration).

Some motorists complain because since a road diet also decreases the speed that they can drive, they believe it increases congestion and the time it takes them to get from point A to point B. There is some research to indicate that this is not true, but perception is often “everything.”  In some cities, this has led to what the New York Times labeled “The Bike Wars.”

Now, back to your question. It isn’t as easy to sue a government entity (city, county, state or federal government body or representative), as one would think. Read more…

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Showdown Becomes Slowdown: North Figueroa Street Project Drags On

Different options that community members have to chose for Figueroa

Different options that community members have to chose for Figueroa

In the latest installment in the fight for bike lanes on North Figueroa, North East Los Angeles communities found themselves at yet another community meeting organized by Los Angeles City Councilmember Gil Cedillo at Franklin High School in Highland Park. These community meetings have been literally dragging on and it looks like they will continue to drag on for the foreseeable future until Cedillo finally decides on a course of action.

Yesterdays meeting only seemed to serve one purpose in this on going debate for bike lanes, to piss off everyone.

Trying to avoid a repeat of the shouting matches that took place last meeting in May, no public comment was allowed. Ground rules prohibited clapping (except clapping for Cedillo, his staff, and all the other folks Cedillo acknowledged,) and any kind of noise making from anyone or thing. Cedillo Deputy Sharon Lowe had to break this down for everyone, at length, longwindedly, repetitively, over and over, point by point, patronizingly, both verbatim and with commentary, and stressed the disruptions wouldn’t be tolerated.

#fig4all supporters standing in the back while LAPD office keeps a watchful eye Photo by Erick Huerta

#fig4all supporters standing in the back while LAPD office keeps a watchful eye. Photo by Erick Huerta

If anyone got outta hand, they would be asked to leave after receiving a single warning. The increased presence of the Los Angeles Police Department, which at one point during the meeting had to take the mic to remind everyone to simmer down, only added to tensions. Perhaps the councilman felt he needed the added LAPD presence because he was expecting everyone to get mad from his filibustering-style speech?

Rather than skipping the pleasantries, Cedillo spent the better part of an hour thanking and introducing his entire staff, random people in the audience who are his friends, and many more people and organizations not present. It was worse than a rapper-giving shout outs to all the homies after winning an award.

The majority of folks in attendance were reppin’ their colors, green for support of lanes and red/pink for anti-bike lanes. Streetsblog counted roughly 180 people in attendance: roughly 70 wearing prominent green, roughly 30 wearing prominent red/pink, and roughly 30 city staff.

With no meaningful information being presented or exchanged more than 70 minutes into the meeting, attendees (from both sides of the debate) were losing interest and began trickling out. They missed out on later stalling. 

Additionally, the meeting also featured a brief presentation from Mayor Garcetti’s transportation staffer Nat Gale. Gale announced that Garcetti’s Great Streets initiative includes North Figueroa Street between Avenues 50 and 60, where the proposed bike lanes were to be installed.  Read more…

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Previewing Tonight’s Fig4All Meeting: Cedillo Doubles Down, Activist Step Up

Rendering of the proposed buffered bike lane on North Figueroa Street. Image: Flying Pigeon L.A.

Rendering of the proposed buffered bike lane on North Figueroa Street northbound across from Nightingale Middle School Image: Flying Pigeon L.A. More renderings and diagrams at SBLA Lite Tumblr

In case you haven’t heard, tonight there will be another big public meeting regarding the future of planned “road diet” bike lanes for North Figueroa Street. The meeting takes place tonight at 6:00 p.m.* at Franklin High School, more information at this Facebook event. Supporters of safe streets and bicycle lane supporters are encouraged to arrive early and to wear green.

(*Corrected: The meeting time is 6 p.m. tonight not 6:30 p.m. as reported earlier. Make of it what you will, there is definitely a meeting tonight, but there’s no public documentation of it on any of Councilmember Cedillo’s website, facebook, etc.)

The host of the meeting is Los Angeles City Councilmember Gil Cedillo, who expressed support for the bike lanes during the election, but, since, has promoted an alternative circuitous sharrow-ed bike route instead. Cedillo hosted this earlier meeting, where public safety representatives testified against the bike lanes, which would improve public safety. Then it turned out that the officials didn’t have any documentation to back their assertions.

Cedillo has been going all out to rally opposition to the bike lanes. Northeast Los Angeles residents have been receiving “robo-calls” recorded by Gil Cedillo. Cedillo staff have organized anti-bike lane petition signature-gathering door-to-door targeting North Figueroa area businesses. Activists, including Flying Pigeon and the L.A. County Bicycle Coalition, have countered these efforts by door-to-door business signature gathering in favor of the bike lanes. Road diet supporters have printed sashes, organized feeder rides, reached out to media, and are primed to pack the meeting.

What’s up with all this? Why is Cedillo so opposed to this road diet?  Read more…

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Reflections on Reflectors: Should They Be Updated Now That More People Are in the Streets?

Screen shot of Liikenneturva webpage, where you can get a look at how well drivers can see you at night from various distances. http://extrat.liikenneturva.fi/heijastin/en/

Screen shot of the Liikenneturva webpage, where you can get a look at how well drivers can see you at night from various distances. http://extrat.liikenneturva.fi/heijastin/en/

Although the shortest day of the year has come and gone (FINALLY), we’ve only gained an extra six and a half minutes of daylight since the solstice.

Which means it still gets dark too darn early and will continue to do so for a while yet.

I am not afraid of riding my bike in the dark. I do, however, dread the winter rush-hour commutes which are made more stressful by the unhappy combination of more intense visual noise and less overall visibility.

Over the past few winters, I’ve been finding that hard-to-see bicyclists have been adding to that stress.

On more than one occasion, I’ve been riding a busy street like Main or Central (in South L.A.) and found myself narrowly avoiding a head-on collision with another cyclist coming directly at me out of the dark.

Because they are almost never wearing light-colored clothing, sporting any kind of reflective gear, or using lights, I sometimes don’t see them until we are almost on top of each other. And, as most are on cruisers or shoddy mountain bikes and are not particularly nimble riders (save a few fast-moving kids on fixies), I tend to be the one that has to make the last-minute panicked maneuver into traffic or in between parked cars to give them space to pass.

While bicycle traffic is kind of a nice problem to have, it puts us both in danger and I could probably do without the added adrenaline rush.

My beef is not with the bicyclists, however. Read more…

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NYC’s First Speed Cameras Will Go Into Effect When Kids Head Back to School

Mayor Bloomberg joined Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan and NYPD Chief of Transportation James Tuller outside a Crown Heights high school this morning to announce the impending launch of the city’s first automated speed enforcement program. Cameras issuing fines for drivers who exceed the speed limit by 10 mph or more will begin operating on September 9, when students head back to school, though for the first few weeks the program will only send violators warnings.

On Eastern Parkway this morning, Bloomberg addressed the need to enforce the NYC speed limit. Photo: @JohnSurico

Speeding was the leading cause of traffic deaths in NYC last year, contributing to 81 fatal crashes. Still, the state law enabling automated enforcement of the speed limit — which passed after several previous attempts had died in Albany — includes several restrictions. The city has just 20 cameras to work with, and they can only be placed within a quarter-mile of schools. They can’t be operated at times when classes or after-school activities are not in session. On the plus side, the city will be able to move the cameras to different locations, providing some flexibility that should help reduce egregious speeding on a greater share of NYC’s 6,000-mile street network.

To prevent motorists from selectively slowing down near known camera locations, the city is not disclosing the locations of these enforcement cameras. However, the site of today’s press event — W.E.B. DuBois High School on Eastern Parkway and Bedford Avenue — is “a candidate to receive speed camera technology nearby due to a high crash rate in its vicinity,” according to a press release from the mayor’s office.

“Keeping streets safe for motorists, cyclists, and pedestrians is one of the most important public safety challenges any government faces,” Bloomberg said in the announcement. “Our streets are the safest they have ever been, due in large part to our enforcement efforts and innovative traffic engineering that have brought traffic fatalities to record lows. Curbing speeding around schools will help us continue to make our City’s streets safer for everyone.”

The cameras will start monitoring speeds on the first day of the school year, September 9, but the mayor’s office says the $50 fines for violators won’t start until a few weeks later:

DOT will begin the five-year program with a combination of fixed and mobile cameras at unspecified locations, which will be determined based upon factors such as crash and injury data, rates of speed and road geometry. During the initial weeks of the program and in order to send a message to speeders, DOT will only issue warning notices to motorists found on camera to be speeding in excess of 10 or more miles above the posted speed limit before eventually issuing $50 fines for the offense. Violations would be issued to the vehicle owner and will be adjudicated by the New York Parking Violations Bureau.

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Public Safety Committee Acknowledges the Hit and Run Crisis, LAPD Not So Much.

Council Members Mitch O'Farrell, Joe Buscaino, Mitch Englander and Mike Bonin listen to testimony from last week's hearing. Photo: Don Ward

In Los Angeles, according to LAPD crime statistics for 2011, 1273 cyclists and pedestrians were victims of hit and run crimes. In other words every single day, 3 or 4 cyclists and pedestrians become hit and run victims within Los Angeles city limits. Of these, 26 people walking or biking died as a result of the collision in which a motorist fled the scene. Another 10 victims were killed while in cars.

Mind numbing.

Because LAPD traffic division response time can typically take an hour or more to respond to collisions and with LAPD officers known to actively discourage filing reports for minor or no injury hit and runs, there is no telling what the true extent of the crisis is. Years of public comments and protests by cycling and pedestrian advocates including a focused Police Commission public comment action last year have only begun to garner the kind of attention needed to begin to solve this.

Last Friday, members of the LAPD came before the Public Safety Committee to present their report on the extent of LA’s hit and run crisis. The hearing followed a request by Councilman Buscaino in the wake of an LA Weekly exposé last December that brought light to this staggering reality on our streets. Based on the language of that report… the LAPD leadership does not yet appear ready to tackle the issue.

Screen-shot-2013-08-02-at-11.55.39-AM.png

Several members of the “all powerful bicycle lobby,” including myself, made the early morning trip to City Hall thanks to a special LA Bike Trains group ride. Having released the report to the police commission weeks before we already knew the report was a disappointment in many ways. But this was a chance to hear what the Council Members thought and to deliver another round of public comment.

Having attended many disappointing City Council meetings over the years I had no reason to feel optimistic about this one. The formula usually goes something like… livable streets advocates show up with pitch forks, LAPD / LADOT make excuses / naysay / not feasible, politicians feign interest / read their Blackberrys and / or Tom LaBonge talks about critical mass and outlaw bike riders.

But this meeting was different – stacked with freshmen councilmembers – it struck me as a bit of a sea change.

Not only were these Council Members engaged, they were speaking nuanced livable streets language. At one point Council Member Bonin corrected LAPD Deputy Chief Downing for invoking Critical Mass as a causation for hit and run crimes stating: “The typical hit and run victim is not riding on Critical Mass.” This was immediately received with applause from the audience. Given the chance, I would have politely whispered to Chief Downing that the LAPD has been escorting a very peaceful amicable Critical Mass now for years… but I digress. Read more…

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Conjecture Versus Statistics: Spring Street Letters Show Differences in Style

If there’s one thing I’ve learned, it’s that delays in politics rarely offer good news for those with facts on their side. This is especially true when the political powers that be suddenly develop a case of collective laryngitis.

Which is why the news that the Los Angeles City Council hearing and vote on the future of the Spring Street Green Buffered Bike Lane was delayed again is almost certainly bad news. The hearing, originally scheduled for last Friday then re-scheduled for today, is now scheduled for tomorrow at 10 am. For now.

But while we wait, and wait, for a final decision and the long-awaited showdown between the Film and Television Industry and Downtown businesses, residents, bicyclists, pedestrians, Neighborhood Councils and everyone that just likes a safe place to walk, bicycle or be outside; two letters sent to the City Council do a better job of telling the story thus far than I ever could.

But first, some brief background. In November of 2011, after an impressive outreach among Downtown stakeholders, the City of Los Angeles re-striped Spring Street through the historic core. The new design, part of a pilot program, put a painted buffer between mixed-use travel lanes and bicycle lanes. It also painted the Southbound bicycle lane green. A similar plan for Main Street, running parallel but northbound, was scrapped at the request of the Film and Television Industry. When the LADOT planned to repaint the lanes, they were blocked by a request for “more outreach” for at least the past two months by Council Members Tom LaBonge and Eric Garcetti. During the outreach, a group of compromises were proposed, but the industry walked away from every compromise that didn’t cause a re-design that wouldn’t pass federal guidelines for road markings.

In other words, they refused any compromise that wasn’t a poison pill for the project.

The first, written by the Downtown Los Angeles Neighborhood Council, expresses support for repainting the lanes, using statistics gathered by the LACBC and their own consultants, as well as listing a myriad of supporters of the projects. The second, on letter head with logos of three film unions, the Motion Picture Association of America and the Association of Independent Commercial Producers, expresses their displeasure with the lanes and uses hyperbole to state their case.

Some samples: Read more…

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Shameless plug: Join us tonight for a discussion of California’s Road Rules for Bicyclists with the LACBC

Just a quick note before we get on with the rest of the day’s news.

I’ll be speaking tonight as part of a panel discussing the Road Rules for Bicyclists, along with Sgt. Jon Aufdemberg, LAPD South Traffic Division, Bicycle Liaison; James L. Pocrass, Attorney, Pocrass & De Los Reyes, LLP; Cynthia Rose, Co-Founder, Santa Monica Spoke; and Lt. Marjory Jacobs of the LA County Sheriff’s Department.

Presented by the Los Angeles County Bicycle Coalition, the panel discussion will mark the official unveiling of the coalition’s excellent new Bike Safe Rules of the Road pocket guide. Free refreshments and bicycle parking will be provided.

When: Wednesday, May 22; 7 – 8:30 PM
Where: LACBC Headquarters, Edison Room (1st Floor) – 634 S. Spring St., Los Angeles, 90014
Admission: FREE for LACBC Members
 / $10 General Public

Hope to see you there!

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Have You Ever Been Harassed on the Bus?

(Note: When Streetsblog first launched, we were taken to task by the writing team at The Bus Bench for reporting about the dangers of cycling and harassment from drivers, but never the risks taken by transit riders, especially those riding after hours. We’ve gotten better on this issue, Sahra Sulaiman’s piece on THAT GUY and our ongoing coverage of the dangers posed by LASD Sheriffs only touch the issue. In the wake of a story of a group of women being assaulted on a bus in New Delhi, Dana Gabbard wonders how prevalent harassment is on Metro and other transit buses. If you have a story you’re willing to share, please do so in the comments section or you can do so privately by emailing me, damien@streetsblog.org. – DN)

Japan has "women only" rail cars because of rampant harassment on their subways. Rocket News

One morning last week while getting ready for work I was especially taken when hearing these comments on National Public Radio’sMorning Edition about the creation of women-only compartments on New Delhi’s metro system as a safety measure against inappropriate behavior by male passengers:

Male and female perceptions of the problem can differ widely.

Rajesh Kumar travels in the general compartment with his female colleague Manisha Murli. He says out of 100 men, “perhaps two or three” engage in Eve-teasing or unwanted touching.

But Murli disagrees. “It’s not that little,” she protests, putting it around 50 or 60 percent of the men.

It reminds me when looking over some online comments on my apartment building I ran across one in which a women resident complained that while working out in our gym that she noticed one of the male residents was looking her over in a way the creeped her out by being obvious objectification. Read more…

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Irony Alert: L.A. Weekly Story Mocks Cyclist Right to Lane Appears Next to Story of Fatal Dooring

Slow news day?

Must be a slow news day.

Dennis Romero at L.A. Weekly hasn’t exactly been a friend to the cycling community, this is the same writer who referred to CicLAvia as “Mayor Villaraigosa’s Bike Ride Pipe Dream” in the runup to 10/10/10. Today’s column is little more than a weird mocking of Metro’s “Every Lane is a Bike Lane” campaign designed to inform drivers that cyclists can take full use of a mixed-use travel lane. It’s a typical half-thought-out attack on a government agency trying to do the right thing: Metro is incompetent and out of touch and here’s the silly thing they’re doing.

To whit:

Yes. In an effort to make L.A. urban traffic slow down even more, Metro, the folks behind the bus and the subway, remind you that bicyclists have the same right to hold up traffic as any little old lady driver from Pasadena.

Sort of:

If you were a little old lady, Mexican gardener, elder, Iranian man, or any combination thereof, and you did 15 miles an hour down Wilshire Boulevard in your Oldsmobile, 1978 Toyota pickup, or Mercedes E Class when everyone else was doing 45, you could get a ticket.

If you’re interested in a full take-down of Romero’s piece, Ted Rogers does a thorough debunking in the comments section at L.A. Weekly. Read more…